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Government Pushes Ahead with HS2:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Building the Resistance and Seizing the Initiative:
NHS Winter Crisis Day of Action
Building the Resistance and Seizing the Initiative:
Thousands of East Londoners Condemn Plans to Cut Beds in New Whipps Cross Hospital
Looking Towards a New Ireland:
"The Republic is within our sight"
Prevent and the Criminalisation of Protest
Government Pushes Ahead with HS2:
On February 11, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the go-ahead for the controversial High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, designed to strengthen the link from London to the Midlands and the North of England. Yet the government's own official review, authored by former HS2 chair Douglas Oakervee, has stated that the project could cost more than twice its previous budget, set in 2015, and be completed five years late.
The first phase of the project links London to Birmingham. It is now expected that work on the line between Birmingham and Crewe will be rolled into Phase 1 of the project, having been originally planned for Phase 2. Phase 2 links Birmingham with Crewe, Wigan and Manchester on one main branch and with Leeds on another. However, Phase 1 is already lagging; initially being planned to run trains from 2026, the opening date has been pushed back to 2028 at the earliest, and possibly as late as 2031.
The project has been met with opposition from many quarters. Anger has come from people in affected areas, where large amounts of countryside including important hedgerows, trees and grassland are to be ripped up. Communities are being disrupted and even destroyed, as people have been ordered to leave their homes marked for demolition. The serious issue of having a say in matters that affect their lives poses itself very starkly as generations of inhabitants face being dispossessed.
The HS2 project originated over the period of 2009-10, when the global financial crisis was at its height. This was a time when state-organised infrastructure projects were particularly sought after by the financial oligarchy as a way to invest capital with a guaranteed return. However, construction only actually began in 2017, and the project ballooned in cost over those eight years, continuing to rise ever since. In 2015, it was estimated that the cost of HS2 would be £56bn, but the Oakervee review has warned that it could rise to as much as £106bn. This crippling cost is a massive pay-the-rich scheme, funded mainly through value claimed by the state via taxation on the income of the working population.
The inception of the project was also pre-Brexit. It was conceived of at a time when the relations between Britain and the rest of the world, between the nations within Britain and between the regions were different. The aim of the project has to be re-examined in the conditions of the present. These are of unbridled national chauvinism, of "Global Britain", rule through arbitrariness and imposition, and of using Brexit to seize further control over all aspects of life in the interests of the financial oligarchy. Workers have to ask: what is the aim of a project like HS2 under these conditions?
Johnson's approval signals a clear intent to push the project through by the government, even given the scale of opposition, as well as the divisions within the ranks of the ruling circles themselves. Even Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings labelled HS2 a "disaster zone" as recently as last August.
Infrastructure projects such as HS2 are advertised as vital for the economy, vital in themselves and in terms of creating jobs. In the present circumstances, investment in infrastructure may also be presented as a shift away from austerity, getting the economy moving and growing, and so on. But simply providing a connective link does not, in itself, translate into supporting "the economy" and generating growth. How does the issue of connecting London to the regions present itself? Economically, London is principally the financial centre. That other costly and delayed project, Crossrail (the "Elizabeth Line"), for example, is to link the twin financial centres of the City and Canary Wharf to each other and to Heathrow airport, and will even reach as far out as Reading, binding that city virtually within London itself.
In terms of transporting manufactured product for trade, London is not the hub. Most car exports, for example, are carried through other ports such as Southampton. Much product for export that exits through the Channel Tunnel bypasses London.
The question could therefore be raised as to whether it may in fact be more of a political rather than economic project in the current conditions.
First, HS2 is touted to be a project that serves to tie the northern working class to the Conservatives, retaining the vote of the former "red wall". It is intended that HS2 connect with the transpennine Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) line, which is a separate project to connect Liverpool to Leeds. But this mythical Northern Powerhouse remains elusive. In this respect, Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said that the government should prioritise the NPR over the western branch of HS2, which on current projections would not be complete for another 20 or more years.
HS2 is also put forward as a "vanity" project for the Prime Minister. There are two aspects to this. First is Johnson's declaration of mode of rule: his pushing this through against opposition, posing as a so-called man of the people, is not so much about getting the job done as about breaking the taboos. It is deliberately brazen, uncaring about the opposition and disarming the demand for a say. Second, HS2 and other planned projects are said to be part of the "great" and "exciting" ambition of the nation, the announcement of Global Britain in all its glory, to reinforce the message that Johnson really is going to "Make Britain Great Again".
Further, might the aim now be conceived of as giving more power and control to the state? The North of England exists in a semi-colonial relation to the South, a relation which is spontaneously giving rise, in the North especially, to the people's demand that their voices be recognised. The question here is how might this direct connection enable more direct control and influence from the centre to the regions of the North. When seen in the context of the proposed bridge from Scotland to Ireland, this binding role of transport does not look so far-fetched.
In the end, the issue is who decides. It is the workers who demand the decisive say. Modernised communications, transport and industry are certainly required, but is HS2 going to create this? Is it even aimed at creating this? Will riding roughshod over vast tracts of land to connect the big cities non-stop do anything to resolve the contradiction between town and countryside? High-speed links, in themselves, are certainly an advance, but it is precisely the neo-liberal agenda that has been holding them back from being realised in such a way that serves the natural and social environment, ends the semi-colonial nature of the North and the colonial relation between the nations and pays attention to the relations between the peoples of these islands.
55,000 staff at 74 universities began their latest wave of strike action on February 20. Over the next 14 days, these staff, members of the University and College Union (UCU), will be continuing to persist in and widen their historic combined struggle over pensions, pay and conditions, in the general context of safeguarding the future of higher education.
Against the background of an increasingly capital-centric higher education system, working conditions and the claims of education workers over the value they create in the form of pay and pensions have also come under attack. Further, a similar situation also faces non-academic staff, and indeed is a crucial issue across all areas of work at present.
The bringing together of these strands into one concerted action has given a significant quality to the struggle of the higher education staff. These economic issues are intimately connected with the nature of the university system itself and what higher education is for, and for this reason has generated support amongst students.
The UCU stated that striking staff were given a boost as the National Union of Students (NUS) said it backed the walkouts and called on university leaders to work harder to resolve the disputes, despite efforts from universities this week to disrupt the action, confuse the issues and, in some cases, even bribe their staff to cancel protests. The University of Leicester told staff that it would spread the deductions of 14 days' lost pay for the strikes over three months if staff promised not to protest on campus.
In a statement, the UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK. That support sends a clear message to universities that, instead of focusing on silly games and spinning in the run up the walkouts, they should have been working with us to try and sort things out. We have been clear that we are always ready to seriously discuss all the issues at the heart of the disputes. Students are understandably unimpressed at the intransigence of their university leaders and have made clear demands today that vice-chancellors and principals work harder to try and resolve the disputes."
The UCU points out that the disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on universities' failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
Universities UK (UUK - the universities' representatives in the pensions dispute) spent the last week running a consultation on a new offer to make to the union. On Tuesday it declared it was not going to make a new offer.
Meanwhile, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA - the universities' representatives in the pay and conditions dispute) said again earlier this week that it would still not talk to the union about the crucial pay element of the dispute.
As Workers Weekly has pointed out: "The method of imposition and refusal to negotiate, combined with the threat of police powers, is to disrupt the formation of an outlook that recognises education workers, whether academic or not, as adding huge value to the economy. The work done by university staff produces highly skilled graduates and postgraduates with a massive productive capacity, and in a more general sense contributes to the cultural level of society; the universities themselves give rise to scientific and technological advances. It is important that this value is recognised. Not only is it not recognised, it is not realised; that is, its value is not paid for by those that utilise it. Enterprises, particularly big business, benefit directly through their highly-educated workforce and the science and technology they employ, a benefit that takes the form of greater productivity and for which they do not pay."
The UCU reports that as well taking to the picket lines, many strikers will be delivering "teach-out" lectures and holding rallies around the country. MPs have been sending messages of support and joining picket lines. A Labour leadership hustings organised by the Guardian in Manchester on Tuesday has been moved from a university venue to Manchester Central because of the strikes. All the latest information is available on the union's wall of action and via Twitter.
The number of universities being hit by the action is the largest since a nationwide two-day strike in 2016, while the number of strike days is unprecedented. Following the eight-day walkout before Christmas, this latest round of 14 strike days means the total number of walkouts will be 22 by March; higher than the previous record of 14 days in 2018.
This shows that the response of the higher education staff is to persist and widen their struggle in defence of pay, pensions and conditions and to fight to safeguard the future of higher education.
Workers' Weekly fully supports the university staff and wishes them every success in their actions.
London Region UCU Announces Strike Solidarity Assembly
On Thursday 55,000 UCU members across the UK have started 14 days of strike action this week. Their fight is to defend pensions, pay, working conditions and to secure equal pay and end the scourge of casualisation.
The employers and the government have been taken by surprise with the scale of the resistance and their determination to win. By striking to end casualisation they are also fighting to ensure that they give students the education they deserve.
The whole of the working class and trade union movement is with them, who also face the same insecure contracts, cuts in their wages and pensions. The recognition is that a victory for the UCU strikers will also be a victory for the whole of the working class movement.
Workers from across London will be attending the assembly to demonstrate their solidarity with their fight.
UCU strike solidarity assembly, 25 February
Tuesday 25 February, 6pm
Royal National Hotel WC1H 0DG
Nearest tube: Euston / Russell Sq / King's Cross St Pancras
Confirmed speakers already include
John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor
Jane Loftus, CWU President
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary
Colleen Johnson, NEU Executive, Disabled Members rep
Howard Beckett, UNITE Assistant General Secretary
Ian Hodson, BAFWU President
Lesley Kane, Open University UCU branch president
Banner-drop across Westminster Bridge, February 15 2020
A very successful NHS Winter Crisis National Day of Action took place on February 15, when members of the new group NHS Staff Voices, part of the Keep Our NHS Public, carried out a banner-drop from the side of Westminster Bridge, drawing public attention to the worst winter crisis on record.
The banner read: "NHS staff say don't blame our patients! Winter crisis is the government's crisis; 5449 died waiting on hospital trolleys". The banner references a recent study conducted by emergency medicine doctors Dr Chris Moulton and Dr Cliff Mann in December which found that there had been 5,449 avoidable patient deaths as a direct result of waiting for too long on trolleys for medical attention. This has struck a chord with hard-working and increasingly burnt out NHS staff who are demanding proper funding, increased staffing and an end once and for all to this seemingly perpetual crisis.
Dr Tony O'Sullivan, retired consultant paediatrician and Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public, who participated in the banner-drop, said: "Now more than ever it is crucially important that NHS staff make their voices heard. There exists so little opportunity for us to voice our feelings around the subject, and this was an act of solidarity with all who work in the NHS at every level, to literally tell the public we have had enough of the way this government treats both NHS staff and its patients"[see note below on the context of the actions]. He further pointed out: "Government failure to support the NHS and social care system means our dedicated NHS staff are working in unsafe conditions. Our Day of Action is a thank you to NHS staff and a demand to the government: restore our NHS to a fully funded, publicly provided, safe service with the sole priority to care for all."
But this was just the start of the day that saw hundreds of activists around the country engaged in their own actions to highlight the extent of the crisis.
One target was Leeds General Infirmary in West Yorkshire, where a child was photographed lying on the floor of the hospital last year because there was not even a trolley for him to lie on, let alone a bed. Tory underfunding and privatisation of the NHS has left the service short of 106,000 staff, including 44,000 nurses, official data revealed in December. Organised by Leeds KONP, around 30 people with placards, banners and musical instruments gathered near the Jubilee Wing at noon to support the NHS and its staff. They called attention to the "winter crisis and ongoing serious under-funding issues" facing health services. They demanded an "end to the crisis, adequate funding for the NHS, an end to pay freezes and an end to privatisation".
On Merseyside on February 13, over 30 campaigners including members of KONP, Save Liverpool Women's Hospital, and Merseyside Pensioners Association attended a lunchtime demo outside the Royal Liverpool Hospital. Hundreds of KONP "Winter Crisis" leaflets and HCT newspapers were distributed to patients and staff, with good response. They chanted "Whose NHS? - Our NHS... Whose Crisis? - Their Crisis... We Won't Pay for Their Crisis" and "Trolley Waits around the Nation, are not caused by Immigration. Bull***t, Come Off it, The Enemy is Profit" Among the speakers taking a stand against the privatisation of services including by foreign corporations were Mary Whitby, Alex Scott-Samuel, Andrea Franks, Lesley Mahmood, plus an appeal for the impending UCU strike from Martin Ralph.
Campaigners from the Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public group held a protest outside Manchester Royal Infirmary on Oxford Road. Greater Manchester spokesperson Hugh Caffrey said that A&E waiting times figures show an endless crisis of overstretched staff and insufficient beds. This is a hidden crisis of under-staffing in our National Health Service and we demand this is resolved by ending privatisation and investing in beds and staff, he said. There were other reports of campaigners from their rallies, marches, street stalls and more in every part of the country. There were also stalls and campaign actions in Newcastle, South Tyneside and Sunderland as well as other parts of the north-east of England.
This was a very successful day despite Storm Dennis and bad weather conditions in most places in the country. There are still more actions coming this Saturday so see:
Note on the context of the actions:
The latest monthly NHS situation reports predictably tell of an NHS under unprecedented strain. The number of urgent operations cancelled in December was 332. Added to this there were 100,578 four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission this month, which compares to 83,554 in the same month last year. This is the highest level of four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission since records began. Of these, 2,846 were delayed over twelve hours which compares to 627 in the same month last year.
In November, doctors union the British Medical Association (BMA) analysed current performance data and trends, predicting that the NHS was on track to endure its worst ever winter as pressure on services intensified. More beds are urgently needed, however, even if new promised hospitals eventually materialise, these will not solve the bed crisis, as the NHS has now lost around 17,000 since 2010 at most of its hospitals. The government's promises will not alleviate the immense pressures facing the NHS this season, the best we can hope for is that these conditions are not replicated next winter. However, with a funding commitment that fails to account for inflation and is well below what experts agree is required, these statistics look set to be repeated throughout the coming year.
(Keep Our NHS Public website reports)
More than five and a half thousand residents of North East London have demanded safe bed numbers and a full blue light 24/7 accident and emergency service, with all the necessary specialisms to support it, when a new Whipps Cross Hospital is built to replace the old hospital, once state-of-the-art. There are serious concerns that the plans are not adequate, and would amount to a downgrade of the hospital, and that staff and people in the local region are being excluded from decision-making.
Whipps Cross is one of six new hospitals promised to the country in 2019. It will serve an area that has the fastest growing population in London. Thousands of people signed a petition calling for Whipps Cross, as their local hospital, to be adequately funded when Barts Health Trust rebuild it - including a commitment to provide more hospital beds.
The petition - with 5,703 signatories - was handed over to officials at the Department of Health and Social Care on Friday, February 14, by representatives of the Waltham Forest Save Our NHS group, and other supporters from across North East London, holding placards and three huge red hearts.
Barts Trust has admitted that 240 more beds will be needed across the Trust, even if community services were as good as they could be. However, there are no plans for more beds in any other of the hospitals which comprise the Barts Trust, and it is now proposed that there will be even fewer beds in the new hospital than there are currently in Whipps Cross (approximately 600). After submitting their first plan, Barts were instructed to come up with a less costly proposal with fewer beds.
Helly McGrother, campaign spokesperson and Whipps Cross patient, said:
"We are displaying hearts on Valentine's Day to show our love for our local hospital - but we have a serious message to the Government about providing enough beds, adequate A&E services and the right clinical specialisms for our growing population
"We know the NHS is at breaking point. We don't want to see our sick family and friends waiting in ambulances or stuck on trolleys in corridors because there are not enough beds.
"This is a unique chance to build a hospital that's right for the future. We urge the Government to listen to the community, scrutinise the plans carefully and take the opportunity to properly fund the hospital that's needed in North East London."
1. Waltham Forest Save Our NHS health campaign group is affiliated to Keep Our NHS Public, working with other North East London health campaigns. The campaign for proper funding and more beds at the proposed new hospital at Whipps Cross has included, to date, a public meeting of over 100 people, with a panel of speakers including the Barts CEO and John Cryer MP. The campaign has been lobbying MPs, the Barts Board, and the Health Scrutiny Committee, as well as holding numerous stalls in the Whipps Cross catchment area.
2. A local health plan called Transforming Services Together (TST) was launched by Barts Trust and the three local CCGs - Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest - in 2016. The plan took two years to develop and cost at least £3.49m in management consultancy fees. The TST detailed how an extra 550 hospital beds were needed by 2025/26 because of population growth, but could be reduced to 240 partly by shifting care from hospital to the community. (Transforming Services Together Part 2, p 63)
3. Whipps Cross Hospital is in the London borough of Waltham Forest. It is run by Barts Health Trust. The main building dates back to 1903; the need for redevelopment has been evident for many years. In its Strategic Outline Case (SOC) it describes Whipps Cross A&E as "one of the busiest in the country" (p 22). Its catchment population is close to 400,000 (SOC pg 23), projected to grow by 11% by 2029, over 65's by 26% (Whipps Cross Health & Care Strategy 2019, Barts Health Trust, pp 10-11).
Barts Health Trust submitted its Strategic Outline Case to NHS Improvement (NHSI) in 2017. It projected the costs of a rebuild to be nearly £710m, and needing to borrow £516m from the DoH. It expected to raise £56m from land sales at Whipps Cross, and a further £30m from other land sales across the Trust. Bed numbers quoted for the new hospital represented a reduction of approximately 16. After pressure from NHSI, Barts undertook "bridging" work to reduce overall costs by £104m, reduce borrowing by £186.5m and the footprint of the new hospital by the equivalent of 1.75 football pitches. The updated SOC has yet to be submitted. Barts' aim is for the new Whipps Cross to be a "centre of excellence" for the care of frail and elderly people, both for its catchment, and across the Trust (including Newham and Tower Hamlets). It stated in the SOC that patients admitted to Whipps Cross are "more likely to be over 80 years old and more likely to have dementia than patients admitted to Newham University Hospital or the Royal London" (p 5). Yet it plans "fewer overnight inpatient beds", because, it is asserted, more people will be treated in the community rather than in hospital (Building a Brighter Future for Whipps Cross, Oct 2019, p 9).
An independent analysis of the TST wrote that the outcome if the TST does not deliver on the plans would mean: "a disorganised system will be in place, harder for patients to navigate, offering poorer quality of care and even no care for some, and imposing greater burdens of unpaid care on family members, mainly women". (Transforming Services Together: what does East London's plan for health services imply for East Londoners?, Centre for Health and the Public Interest, Nov 2016, p 15).
The Irish general election of February 8 concluded with no party holding a majority of seats in Dáil Éireann. Sinn Féin made significant gains; it received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 of the 160 seats, the party's best result since it took its current form in 1970. Fianna Fáil also won 37 seats, but with fewer first-preference votes. Fine Gael, the governing party led by Leo Varadkar, came third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. Of the 51 remaining seats, one is held by the Irish Speaker, uncontested, 19 were won by independent candidates, and 31 by other parties: Green Party, Labour Party, Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit, Aontú, and Independents4Change.
Sinn Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald announced her intention to try to form a coalition government. She affirmed that what the electorate had voted for is a Government for Change; they had rejected Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's record over the past four years. She condemned those two parties who now want to block the change that the people had voted for. She said on February 21 regarding the first day of the new Dáil: "Yesterday was a historic day. For the first time in the history of the State, someone other than the leader of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael received the most votes to become Taoiseach." The voting had been: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald 45 votes, ranking the highest among the four candidates, followed by 41 votes for Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, 36 votes for Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, and 12 votes for Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. An overall majority is required. After a 2016 vote it took 70 days for a minority coalition government to form under Fine Gael, which was supported in a confidence and supply agreement by Fianna Fáil .
On the discussions to form a coalition the Sinn Féin leader said: "These discussions are about how we address the issues that were central to this election campaign - building homes, cutting rents and freezing them, guaranteeing the pension age at sixty-five, health and the trolley crisis, climate change and Irish Unity." Mary Lou McDonald condemned Micheal Martin, Fianna Fáil leader, for arrogantly refusing to speak to Sinn Féin.
Leo Varadkar resigned as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) after the vote on February 20, but according to the constitution he and his government will continue in office until a successor has been appointed.
Addressing the Sinn Féin representatives on February 12, Mary Lou McDonald said that the party wants to advance Irish Unity. "This not only possible but necessary at this time. The process is clear. A referendum on unity is a key part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a duty of the Irish government to commence this process. Unionists should not fear debate and discussions about the future. This must be an engaging and forward-looking debate. Sinn Féin want real change. We want to implement our solutions, that are grounded in common sense and to implement our policies. And we have the team with the ability to deliver. There is a massive appetite amongst the electorate for something different from government. That is what the people voted for - for change."
The conflict in the north of Ireland ended more than two decades ago in 1998 with the signing of a peace agreement, the Good Friday Accord. In that internationally binding accord, the British government committed itself to Irish unity if a majority of the population on the island agreed to it. Now the Irish people are showing the way forward with the show of confidence given to Sinn Féin. That party has declared that the Republic is within sight, and this vision, after the struggle of the British ruling elites to prevent it, is bound to win out. This will provide political progress and stability as the Irish people put themselves in control of their own destiny on the island of Ireland.
Workers' Weekly warmly congratulates Sinn Féin on its results in the election, and wishes them well in their attempts to form a government and point the way to reunification and progress in Ireland.
Bobby Sands Trust
The death has occurred of leading republican Francie Brolly, a civil rights activist, a former prisoner, singer and songwriter, and for seven years until 2010 Sinn Féin MLA for East Derry. Only last August Francie, along with his wife Anne, attended the relaunch of the Bobby Sands Trust's book Hunger Strike, at which Francie sang his own composition, "The H-Block Song", which reduced many in the audience to tears. Many people said it was the most poignant rendition of the internationally famous song that they had ever heard.
Deepest condolences to Anne, children Joe, Proinnsías, Conal, Áine and Nollaig and the entire Brolly family
Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Here is a link to Francie Brolly's song.
Organised by: Stop the War & CND
Thurs 27 Feb | 18:30-20:30
London WC1H 9BD
Speakers: Lowkey, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Kate Hudson from CND, Lindsey German from Stop the War, Ben Jamal from PSC, as well as contributions from Greenpeace and Stand Up to Racism
In January 2020, organisations and protest groups campaigning for peace, environmental justice, human rights and animal rights, and against racism found themselves listed in a police counter-terror document. It is part of an alarming pattern of attacks on civil liberties and the right to protest.
The state, under the guise of tackling terrorism, is increasingly surveilling and monitoring individuals and groups engaged in legitimate political and democratic processes. If this massive state overreach is not confronted, we run the risk of losing further democratic freedoms that we presently take for granted.
The campaign groups on the front line of these attacks have demanded that the police counter-terror document is immediately rescinded and repudiated, and are calling for an independent review of the Prevent strategy.
Join the organisers for a discussion on this dangerous threat to the progressive movements and be part of the campaign to fight back.
PAME reported on February 18 that thousands of workers had taken to the streets in more than 60 cities all over Greece in a massive strike action in a militant response to the employers and the government.
The workers, according to the report, are demanding free, public social security for all and cancellation of the anti-worker government Bill that privatises healthcare and social security.
From midnight, workers all over Greece formed picket lines and stopped production. In Athens all public transport was halted. Metro, trains, buses and ships all came to a standstill. Thousands of workers then came onto the strike demonstrations. The demonstrations welcomed international solidarity from unions from many countries, and expressed solidarity with the upcoming strike of the workers of France.
(PAME - The All-Workers Militant Front)
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